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Who could the Sabres take at 8?

A look at some of the top prospects who could be available

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

CHICAGO - The Buffalo Sabres are set to make a selection with the eighth overall pick in tonight's first round of the 2017 NHL Draft and two big questions loom. Who will be there and which prospect will Jason Botterill select in his first draft as general manager of the Sabres.

Kris Baker of posted his Top 31 prospect rankings to this month (find that our full coverage presented by New Era right here), and his eighth-ranked player is Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren. That's the player's Mike Morreale has Buffalo taking in his mock draft, but there are a wide range opinions on the depth of this year's class and who slots where. 

Video: Mike Morreale on the 2017 Draft

The three draft experts at all have Buffalo taking a different player at eight. Adam Kimelman has defenseman Juuso Valimaki joining the Sabres organization tonight while Guillaume Lepage likes right wing Owen Tippett in blue and gold

TSN's director of scouting Craig Button has forward Elias Pettersson eighth in his final rankings, but thinks center Casey Mittelstadt will not only be available at eight, but would be the best pick for Buffalo there

Video: Craig Button on Buffalo's options at 8

His colleague Bob McKenzie, meanwhile, has center Cody Glass as his eighth best player available

Our friend Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet has center Martin Necas going to Buffalo in his final mock draft.

Video: Sam Cosentino on the 2017 Draft class

"I have zero clue of the true order and I think so many players are just so close in that area there. I think it'll be very interesting to see how it plays out," Botterill said this morning. "…You just have to focus on your scenario and be ready for anything."

Video: Jason Botterill's Pre-Draft Interview

 And we're going to help you be ready as well. 

Let's start by looking at some forwards 

If Buffalo likes a forward there, Mittelstadt and Tippett are two of the players Baker talked about with Brian Duff in our Prospect Avenue series. They also looked at Glass, Martin Necas and Eeli Tolvanen:

Video: Prospect Avenue is back for a second season

Here's Baker on Casey Mittelstadt:

A late-1998 birthdate committed to the University of Minnesota, Casey Mittelstadt is extremely agile with a very quick set of hands and a dogged work ethic. He is a superior stickhandler and playmaker who can string together electrifying shifts in the offensive zone, but perhaps his greatest strides taken in the past calendar year have come when building a complete 200-foot game.

Read more on Mittelstadt's run in high school career before jumping into the junior ranks here

What does Baker think of Owen Tippett?

A budding power forward with a track record of being a dominant, pure goal scorer at every level he's played at, Owen Tippett is an explosive speedster with a blistering shot and a boatload of confidence. Regarding his shot, Tippett can simply rip it with a release that is perhaps the best in the entire draft. 

Duffer sat down with Tippett at the NHL Combine for a 1-on-1 interview:

Video: 1-on-1 with Owen Tippett

Tippett will look to improve on the defensive side of the puck as he looks to transition to the next level, as Jourdon LaBarber explains here.

Martin Necas is an intriguing prospect who checked in at No. 10 on Baker's countdown:

Necas enters the draft coming off an impressive 2016-17 season in the Czech Republic's top league, posting seven goals and 15 points in 41 regular season games before hitting a playoff crescendo with four goals in 10 outings.

A nimble, slippery forward with explosive acceleration and impressive four-way mobility, Necas represents one of the most compelling offensive prospects when he hits open ice.

Cody Glass is 6-foot-2, 178 pounds and still has room to fill into his frame. Here's Baker: 

The clear-cut fastest-rising player in the 2017 draft class, Cody Glass took his exclusion from Canada's entry at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August personally, and proceeded to make the opposition pay on a nightly basis en route to amassing 32 goals and 94 points to lead his Portland Winterhawks in scoring.

Glass is a dynamic offensive player, but he stands out by rating well-above average in seemingly every core competency as a hockey player. He just may not be the best at any single one.

Duffer also chatted with Glass:

Video: 1-on-1 with Cody Glass

Here's more on Eeli Tolvanen from Baker's profile:

The sniping Eeli Tolvanen is front and center in the next wave of Finland's high-end draft eligible forwards, following in the footsteps of Aleksander Barkov (2013), Kasperi Kapanen (2014), Mikko Rantanen (2015), and the dynamic duo of Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi (2016).

Slick and crafty with a desire to play at an up-tempo pace, the exciting winger possesses top notch quickness and a strong skating game with an NHL-caliber array of shooting skills.

What about defense?

Here's Baker with Duffer on Liljegren, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Juuso Valimaki, Callan Foote:

Video: Prospect Avenue: Defensemen at 8?

Here's what Baker had to say about Timothy Liljegren in his prospect profile:

A tantalizing skater and puck mover with a fluid two-way skill set, Timothy Liljegren matches his athletic attributes with an equally superior mind for the offensive game. Some young players just naturally move and look spark an NHL-like transition game at a young age. That's the right-shot Liljegen in a nutshell, as he displays many of the required traits to become an impact NHL defenseman.

Cale Makar's stock seems to be on the rise and for Buffalo, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have another right-shot defenseman in the organization. He's Baker's top-rated defenseman available:

In a draft class starved for superior defensive talent, Cale Makar stands out among the pack with his sheer offensive mentality whenever the puck hits his stick. 

The modern NHL game requires defenseman that can skate the puck over two lines, but Makar is one that take it all the way to the net with an aggressive, attacking mindset, be it with a give-and-go route, a wraparound attempt, or circling the zone with a crisp stop and a big shot on goal.

Here's Duffer's 1-on-1 with him:

Video: 1-on-1 with Cale Makar

Juuso Valimaki clocked in at No. 15 on Baker's countdown:

The Finnish hockey program has taken their development structure to a new level in recent years. The rise of left-handed defenseman Juuso Valimaki, a true two-way producer with exceptional leadership skills, is just another example of their success.

Over the past two Western Hockey League seasons in Tri-City, Valimaki has proved himself as a poised puck distributor that can shut down the opposition's top line. He is defensively sound, exhibiting excellent gap control and good use of his stick. He rounds out the package with a nice physical dimension as he is not shy about using his body as well to disrupt the rush and cancel out his checks.

He's teammates with fellow top prospect Michael Rasmussen and you can read here about how to the two have developed a strong friendship.

 And now Miro Heiskanen, according to Baker:

A steady riser all throughout the year, Miro Heiskanen is a smooth two-way defender with very few flaws in his game to represent another high-end talent in the long line of recent quality products of the Finnish development pipeline.

Heiskanen is a left-shot rearguard who can control the pace of play when possessing the puck. He sees the ice extremely well from the back end, calmly skating it up ice and adding motion at the top of the box in the offensive zone. 

He's one of five top Finnish prospects along with Tolvanen, Valimaki, Kristian Vesalainen and Urho Vaakanainen who are looking to learn from the disappointment of this past year's IIHF World Junior Championship.

Duffer and Heiskanen also had a good chat:

 Video: 1-on-1 with Miro Heiskanen

Finally, let's take a look at Callan Foote, the son of former NHLer Adam Foote. From Baker's notes:

The 2016-17 season saw Callan Foote, the son of former NHL defenseman and Stanley Cup winner Adam, shine as a simple, steady defenseman who is always in the right defensive position. You can never have too many rock-solid defenders in the stable, and Foote appears near the head of the draft class in that regard with his ability to gobble up big minutes thanks to his huge body and long stick that consistently forces the attack wide. 

This isn't to say that Foote doesn't have an offensive gear, because he certainly does as he operates as a balanced of mix of old and new school defender. He brings toughness in the defensive zone, knows his assignments and executes in a calm manner at both ends of the rink.

Tune into the first round of the draft tonight, starting at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Sportsnet. We'll have updates for you here at from United Center where we'll find out who the newest Sabre will be.

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